March 25, 2013

LeBron James leads way for Miami Heat as streak hits 26 in easy win over Charlotte Bobcats

The Heat had its largest margin of victory this season in routing the Bobcats for its 26th win in a row — seven shy of the Lakers’ NBA record.

If there were a game for Dwyane Wade to miss during this epic winning streak, this was it — at home against a dreadful Charlotte Bobcats team.

Like the previous three games, the Heat fell behind by double digits in the first half.

Unlike the past three, the Heat righted itself quickly, erasing Charlotte’s 11-point lead by late in the first quarter, then burying the visiting Bobcats with a second-half avalanche and coasting to a 109-77 romp, Miami’s largest margin of victory this season.

And so the win streak grows to 26, just seven short of the 1971-72 Los Angeles Lakers’ record 33-game run.

“I don’t think we can really appreciate this now because it’s so much work,” Chris Bosh said. “Maybe this summer.”

Miami can push the streak to 30 if it sweeps a four-game road trip that starts Monday in Orlando and ends with perhaps the most difficult assignment of the two past months — a Sunday night meeting with San Antonio.

Heat players rarely mention the streak unless asked and say it’s not a talking point in the locker room. When will it be on their radar?

“I don’t know,” LeBron James said. “It’s on everyone else’s radar.”

Coach Erik Spoelstra cracked: “Our story line is probably a little too boring for you guys. It’s a special opportunity for this group. We’re trying to get better. This thing just happened.”

The Heat pieced together two dominant stretches Sunday against the team with the league’s worst record: a 25-4 run after Charlotte led 19-8 early, and a 26-5 second-half stampede after the Bobcats closed to within five with just under five minutes left in the third quarter.

James, not surprisingly, was at the epicenter of both eruptions. He closed with 32 points on 11-for-14 shooting, 10 assists, eight rebounds, three steals and three blocks in 34 minutes, his night ending with 7:51 left and the Heat ahead by 26.

“He really set the tone, made some great plays defensively,” Spoelstra said.

James’ third quarter, in particular, was a work of art: 14 points on 6-for-7 shooting, to go along with six rebounds, three assists, two blocks and a steal. After Charlotte drew within five with 4:53 left in the third, James scored or assisted on five of Miami’s next six baskets, including hitting a jumper to put the Heat up by 16 just before the quarter ended.

Among those looking on and enjoying LeBron’s work: stars from golf (Rory McIlroy), tennis (Novak Djokovic) and boxing (Vladimir Klitschko).

“You try to leave an impression on them,” said James, who has made 23 of 29 shots over his previous two games.

The Heat’s defense was dynamic; Miami finished with 10 blocks, nine steals and held the Bobcats to 33.7 percent shooting, a season low for a Heat opponent. Charlotte’s nine assists tied an NBA low this season.

With Wade missing the game with soreness in his right knee, Mike Miller started for only the fifth time this season, hit a three-pointer on the game’s first shot and closed with six points (2 for 7 from the field).

“This is a good team when I don’t even [mess] up the streak,” Miller cracked afterward.

Spoelstra said it’s undetermined whether Wade will play Monday against the Magic. Wade still got involved in the merriment, conducting part of Sun Sports’ postgame interview with James.

“What does it say about this team when you have a superstar out?” Wade asked James.

“Anytime you have a big time superstar, Hall of Fame guy out, guys have to step up,” James said.

James got help from Chris Bosh, who rebounded from Friday’s five-point, 1-for-7 shooting night by scoring 15 points on his 29th birthday.

Since James joined the Heat, Miami is 22-6 without Wade.

“We’ve got enough,” James said of playing without Wade. “That’s what this team is built around.”

There was the usual burst of energy from Chris Andersen, who scored all three of his baskets on dunks off feeds from James.

“That’s something we didn’t have with our other [backup] centers,” said Spoelstra, who spoke before the game of possibly playing Bosh and Andersen together at times eventually. “He gives us that vertical spacing.”

Norris Cole (15 points, six assists, no turnovers) and Ray Allen (14 points, 4 for 5 on three-point shooting) also chipped in, and the Heat pushed its record to 25-1 in games in which its bench players outscore the opponent’s reserves.

Miami shot 50 percent, raising its record to 33-2 this season when it makes at least half its shots.

Even Juwan Howard got into a game for the first time since rejoining the Heat last month, scoring Miami’s final points on a layup.

Beyond the Heat’s overall winning streak, Miami has won 17 in a row at home — one short of the franchise record.

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